The math dictates Ajou Ajou should have half as much difficulty making a name for himself as anyone else entering NCAA Div. 1 football.
And the product of the Harry Ainlay Titans high-school program took his first big step in doing just that with a highlight-reel catch for his first collegiate touchdown with his No. 1-ranked Clemson University Tigers on the weekend.
The six-foot-three, 215-pound freshman scored on a 35-yard receiver bubble, shaking two tackles on his way to the end zone Saturday to cap a 73-7 dismantling of the Georgia Tech University Yellow Jackets.
Led by Heisman frontrunner Trevor Lawrence at quarterback, Clemson set a school record with its seventh passing touchdown of the game, complements of Ajou’s catch and run.
And he would have had another in the game had a previous completion from backup quarterback Hunter Helms, which saw the receiver make a spectacular leap over a defender to haul in at the front corner of the end zone, not been overturned.
“It was pretty cool to see him have the game that he had and have been following him through the first seven weeks of the season,” said Titans offensive co-ordinator Brock Ralph, who played nine seasons as a receiver in the Canadian Football League. “We’re extremely proud of the success that he’s having and the opportunity that he’s created and being given.
“It’s cool to see a guy from up here down at a big school and getting some loving.”
Or another one, at least. Sherwood Park product Chuba Hubbard has been given the nickname Canada’s Cowboy for his outstanding work leading the Football Bowl Subdivision in rushing yards last season on his way to earning Big 12 offensive player of the year with Oklahoma State University.
And there are others breaking onto the NCAA scene, including Connecticut defensive end Lwal Uguak and Calgary’s Amen Ogbongbemiga (OSU) and Deane Leonard (Ole Miss).
“I think people are catching on and some of the schools south of the border are figuring out there is some talent up here,” Ralph said. “Especially at the skill positions, it’s something you don’t see as often, guys up here aren’t being recognized.
“We’ve had some really talented football players in the last couple years come out of the Edmonton area, so I think it’s fun to see. It’s kind of put the city on the map between what Chuba’s done and maybe Ajou getting underway there as well.”
The recruiting scene is evolving from when Ralph came out of his hometown of Raymond, Alta., to play Div. 1 football with the University of Wyoming Cowboys.
“We’re definitely seeing a trend toward scouting out Canadian talent and it’s good to see,” Ralph said. “A lot of guys deserve that opportunity and want to go south.”
Ajou has a video conference with half a dozen Canadian media outlets scheduled for Oct. 26, following Clemson’s game against Syracuse this week.
Called a “freakish” talent by head coach Dabo Swinney, who first saw Ajou at a football camp at Memorial Stadium in the summer of 2019, the 18-year-old out of Brooks, Alta., played his senior year of high school at Florida’s Clearwater Academy International, before becoming Clemson’s first football signee from Canada.
“He’s fortunate he’s with a program that’s had the success they’ve had,” Ralph said of Clemson’s two national championships in the past four years. “Ajou has always been a guy that’s looking to compete against the best and on the biggest stage.
“When he first came here and we started talking about his goals, short-term and long-term, and he made it very clear that he had lofty goals and he mentioned Div. 1 football and he mentioned NFL. He was 15 years old at the time and I think he believed in himself. I think he’s a guy that shoots for the stars. I was impressed he had a clear plan for himself.”
One of five children, Ajou left his home in southern Alberta to live with family in Edmonton and play under Titans head coach Tyler Greenslade and in Ralph’s pass-centric offence in Grade 10 and 11.
“He’s always been willing to sacrifice different things to put himself in that position, and it probably wasn’t easy as a 15-year-old guy that was new to high school, to come to a big school like Harry Ainlay and a big city like Edmonton,” Ralph said. “And he didn’t shy away from that. I know he’s had excellent family support from his mom behind some of those moves he wanted to make.
“He’s had to grow up in a hurry. To be off on his own in South Carolina, he couldn’t be much further from where he grew up.”
And if all goes well, Ajou Ajou (pronounced uh-Joe) will become more of a household name with each passing week.
“It’s one that we had fun with and when you first hear, you instantly wonder and think it’s quite unique,” Ralph said of the name so nice, they used it twice. “It’s not a name you forget.
“He has that name, he has that personality, he has that body type and some of the fine motor (skills) for a big guy. Just extraordinary, so he’s an interesting mix of a guy. I still do believe he’s kind of just getting started here and there’s big things he’s going to do.”
E-mail: [email protected]
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge
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